RAVENSWOOD — A crowd of 47th Ward candidates answered resident questions about school security, an elected school board and selective-enrollment schools at a recent education-focused forum at Ravenswood Elementary.
Thursday night’s forum, attended by 170 people, was organized by Friends of Ravenswood School. Questions came from the school’s students, parents and others in the audience. The 47th Ward includes all or parts of North Center, Lincoln Square, Lakeview and Uptown.
Nine candidates are on the ballot in the 47th Ward race, but only eight appeared Thursday:
• Eileen Dordek, a social-worker and LGBTQ activist.
• Jeff Jenkins, a co-founder of Midnight Circus in the Parks and a small business owner.
• Gus Katsafaros, a restaurant owner with a background in real estate and an electrician.
• Heather Way Kitzes, a former director of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce and current manager of government and neighborhood relations for the Chicago Cubs.
• Kimball Ladien, a physician
• Angie Maloney, a CPS music teacher and organizer.
• Matt Martin, a civil rights attorney at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office.
• Michael Negron, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s former policy chief.
Outgoing Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) was first elected to the City Council in 2011 and reelected in 2015. After a failed run for governor, he announced he would be sticking to his self-imposed two-term limit as an alderman and instead run for city treasurer.
A two-part question from the audience asked candidates about lockdown drills to prepare for school shootings and having schools used by voters to cast ballots during elections.
Maloney, a teacher, said the Chicago Teachers Union has discussed voting in schools. From her own experience, schools can do a better job of managing voters by having voters only be able to enter a school via a single entrance to cast their ballots. She, like the other candidates, said it was important to have students see democracy in action.
Jenkins added that while lockdown drills are unfortunately a reality for students, schools need to be very sensitive to the age of students when running those drills.
Katsafaros added that the problems of school shootings and gun violence are too complex to solve with a single forum discussion. Until headway is made regarding the mental health issues surrounding gun violence school’s should have “draconian” security measures in place, he said.
Chicago Public School Board
Another audience member asked how the candidates would address CPS school closings citywide and what they would do to combat racial bias, intentional or otherwise, in the city’s schools.
“We need an elected school board,” said Martin, adding that many of the controversies CPS finds itself in aren’t being dealt with effectively by the appointed Chicago Board of Education.
Jenkins gave CPS credit for its chief equity officer, but said the school district still has a lot of work to do to address its equity problem, saying the school board needs a “serious infusion of democracy.”
Maloney also said CPS’ historic school closings in 2013 were not “one-off decisions,” and instead were a city-wide displacement that happened in favor of the city’s wealthy.
Kitzes said she’s in favor of supporting a move to a school board modeled after the Local School Councils that already exist in the city, with some positions being appointed and other being elected. She also said she wanted to create a “sister school program” between North Side and South Side schools, so students could take fields trips back and forth between neighborhoods and have online video conferencing to help address CPS’ problems with equitability and lack of diversity in its schools.
Katsafaros, a graduate of CPS, said he remembers going to DeWitt Clinton Elementary at 6110 N. Fairfield Ave. and having just one black student in his 6th grade class.
“Late in adulthood, I realized we are the most segregated city in the United States probably,” Katsafaros said.
Now that he’s older he says Chicago is still so segregated and that has to be addressed, partially because an appointed school board that serves at pleasure of mayor just doesn’t work.
Said Negron: “We need to rethink how we do utilization. …I don’t think the district should keep using 30 kids as the standard for whether something is fully utilized.”
TIF Surpluses To CPS
Discussing Tax Increment Financing districts, Dordek said what upsets her is that even if the funds are used in a transparent and constructive way, the rules for TIFs say they must be used on physical improvements. Because of this, non-physical improvements to a school’s curriculum can’t be directly funded by a TIF surplus. If elected, she wants to head to Springfield to advocate for CPS families to make sure state lawmakers direct funding for improvements to CPS, she told the audience.
Katsafaros said TIF reform is the key, because if billions can be raised to try to woo Amazon, then Chicago can easily find money to fund its schools.
Jenkins said equity among the city’s schools is crucial. He says he would hold Springfield accountable and lobby the state government to fully fund neighborhood schools across the state. The idea that there can be a thriving school in a struggling school district is an example of the issues with equitability the city and state is facing regarding education funding.
Martin said Springfield can’t fix this on its own. Springfield already passed equitable funding formula, but the city isn’t taking the next step of following through on it. He added that the city and state has to look at multiple revenue options, like legalizing marijuana as well as a progressive city income tax, knowing that not one of them on their own will not be a “silver bullet” to solve the education funding problem.
Kitzes said CPS’ budget isn’t going to bounce back overnight, but doesn’t’ think new taxes good idea, adding that the city and state can’t rely on things like revenue from legalizing marijuana to address its financial problems.
During the forum Ladien’s repeatedly cited his credentials as a scientist and his desire to implement a trillion dollar “clean renewable energy” plan if elected. He says his plan could be a solution to many of the education problems the city faces due to a lack of funding.
“In Illinois that would translate to several billion dollars annually that would be be able to not only pay off the pensions but also cut taxes and most definitely fund schools,” he said.
A full video of Thursday’s forum can be found below.
Below are highlights from Block Club’s live coverage of the forum. The full tweet thread can be found here.
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